Tag Archives: digital preservation

Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK Web Archive

There is a saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true when you think of the types of hobbies and interests the UK public engages in. There are the hobbies we have all probably heard of such as train spotting or metal detecting and there are the more obscure ones such as Poohsticks or Hand Dryer appreciation.  Websites are a useful tool for enthusiasts to communicate and share their passion with the world. At the UK Web Archive (UKWA) the Online Enthusiast Communities  collection aims to:

‘Capture how UK based public forums are used to discuss hobbies and activities and serve as a place for enthusiasts to converse with others sharing similar interests.’

This collection includes such a diverse and wonderful selection of websites and forums. I can honestly say that curating this collection has truly been a joy – there are probably very few jobs that allow you to look at The Letter Box Study Group (a website about the history and development of British roadside letter boxes) as part of your tasks for the day.

Differences I have noticed

As a curator you get to explore lots of sites and you begin to notice differences and similarities between websites. It is interesting to see the variety in website design and levels of expertise and to me it feels like this is reflected in the websites that are archived.

I have noticed lots of online communities using a variety of website builders. The huge diversity in tools appear to have made it easier to create more professional looking sites with ease. Compared to older sites, you notice:

  • the increased use of images
  • cleaner feel
  • neutral backgrounds
  • minimal text
  • occasional e-commerce sections

However, it is nostalgic to see some of the older more ‘blocky’ sites, as I do remember the days of dial-up internet access and early web sites. To me, forums tend to have a similar feel and the designs does not deviate greatly from each other.

I have also found how often a website updates intriguing. Some are regularly updated whereas others appear to have been untouched for several years. This may reflect that many websites are run by volunteers balancing other commitments. Regularity of updates is an important factor as it will contribute to deciding how often we capture the site – it is the skill of a web archivist to judge this accordingly however these frequencies can be updated.

Some of my Favourite sites

One of the joys of curating this collection is that you get to experience sites that are really unique that you would not normally explore. I wanted to highlight a few of the sites that particularly caught my attention, specifically from the ‘Miscellaneous’ sub section as this is my personal favourite.

Pylon of the Month

Pylon of the month (February 2018) from Sweden. Image Credit: Kristin Allardh, 2018

This is a site dedicated to electricity pylons highlighting a monthly winner. These could include current pylons or historic images and entries can come from the UK and beyond. Images are usually accompanied by some interesting history or facts.

Modernist Britain

Odeon cinema Leicester, Leicestershire. Image Credit: Richard Coltman, 2010

This site is beautifully designed and celebrates modernist architecture in Britain. There are fifty illustrated images with accompanying information about the history of the buildings and photographs taken by Richard Coltman.

Cloud appreciation society

A Lenticular cloud. Image Credit: © José Ramón Sáez, 2019

This site was launched in 2005 with the aim of ‘bringing together people who love the sky’. It has an international membership with members submitting images from all over the world. They also run events, cloud related news and in 2019 they are contributing to the non-profit FogQuest project.

The online enthusiast community is also very witty, there are some fantastically named sites and forums such as:

  • Planet of the Vapes – a forum about vaping
  • DIYnot Forum – a forum about DIY
  • Frit-Happens! – an online community for glass blowing and glass crafting

Curating the online enthusiast collection has been incredibly enjoyable. Having to actively seek new sites has made me more aware of the variety of hobbies and diversity of interests the public engage in.

As this collection develops, more sites relating to the variety of hobbies and interests will be captured and persevered for future generations explore, enjoy and research. However, due to the size, complexity and technological challenges of archiving all UK websites, some may get missed or we just do not know about them . If there is a site that you think should be included then you can nominate it on the ‘Save a UK website‘ page of the UKWA.

Developing collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Gender Equality collection

The UK web archive Gender Equality collection and its themed subsections provide a rich insight into attitudes and approaches towards gender equality in contemporary UK society and culture. This was previously discussed in my last blog post about the collection, which you can read here.

Curating the collection

A great deal of the discussion and activity relating to gender equality occurs predominantly in an online space. This means that as a curator for the Gender Equality collection, the harvest is plenty! The type of content being collected by the UK Web Archive includes:

Of course there is some crossover, not only regarding the type of content but also within subsections of the gender equality collection.

This image is made available and reproduced by CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode]

Specifically, I find the event sites in the collection really interesting. As well as documenting that the event(s) even existed and happened in the first place, they can give us a snapshot of who organised the event, as well as who the intended audience were. Also, the collection exhibits the evolution of websites related to gender equality over time (which can be very speedy indeed when it comes to sites like twitter accounts!), and the changing priorities, trends, initiatives and more that can tell us about attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. These kinds of websites are being created by and engaged with by humans right now.

Nominate a website!

The endeavour of the UK Web Archive never stops – if you would like to help grow the Gender Equality collection (or indeed, any other collections) click here to nominate a website to save. Go on…whilst you’re at it, you can explore the UK Web Archive’s funky new interface!

 

Image reference: Workers Solidarity Movement (2012) March for Choice

 

Sixth British Library Labs Symposium

On Monday November 12, 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend the annual British Library Labs Symposium. During the symposium the British Library showcases the projects that they have been working on for their digital collections and issues awards to those who either contributed to those projects or used the digital collections to create their own projects.

According to Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, this year’s symposium was their biggest and best attended yet: a testimony to the growing importance of digitization, as well as digital preservation and curation, within both archives and libraries.

This year’s theme of 3D models and scanning was wonderfully introduced by Daniel Prett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, in his keynote lecture on ‘The Value, Impact and Importance of experimenting with Cultural Heritage Digital Collections’. He explained how, during his time with the British Museum, they began to experiment with the creation of digital 3D models. This eventually lead to the purchase of a rig with multiple camera’s allowing them to take better quality photos in less time. At the Fitzmuseum, Prett has continued to advocate the development of 3D imaging. The museum now even offers free 3D imaging workshops open to anyone who is in possession of a laptop and any device that has a camera (including a smartphone).

Although Prett shared much of his other successful projects with us, he also emphasized that much of digitization is about trial and error, and stressed the importance recording those errors. Unfortunately, libraries and archives alike are prone to celebrate their successes, but cover-up their errors, even though we may learn just as much from them. Prett called upon all attendees to more frequently share their errors, so we may learn from each other.

During the break I wandered into a separate room where individuals and companies showcased the projects that they developed in relation to the digital libraries special collections. A lucky few managed to lay their hands on a VR headset in order to experience Project Lume (a virtual data simulation program) and part of the exhibition by Nomad. The British Library itself showcased their own digitization services, including 360° spin photography and 3D imaging. The latter lead to some interesting discussions about the de- and re-contextualization of artworks when using 3D imaging technology.

In the midst of all this there was one stand that did not lure its spectators with fancy technology or gadgets. Instead, Jonah Coman, winner of the BL Teaching & Learning Award, showcased the small zines that he created. The format of these Pocket Miscellany, as they are called, are inspired by small medieval manuscripts and are intended to inform their readers about marginalized bodies, disability and queerness in medieval literature. Due to copyright issues these zines are not available for purchase, but can be found on Coman’s Patreon website.

The BL labs symposium also showed how the digital collections of the British Library can inspire both art and fashion. Fashion designer Nabil Nayal, who unfortunately could not accept his BL labs Commercial Award in person, for example, had used the Elizabethan digital collections as inspiration for the collection he presented at the British Library during the London Fashion week.

Artist Richard Wright, on the other hand, looked to the library’s infrastructure for inspiration. This resulted in The Elastic System, a virtual mosaic of hundreds of the British Library books that together make-up a sketch of Thomas Watts. When you zoom in on the mosaic you can browse the books in detail and can even order them through a link to the BL’s catalogue that is integrated in the picture. Once a book is checked out, it reveals the pictures of BL employees working in the stacks to collect the books. It thereby slowly reveals a part of the library that is usually hidden from view.

Another fascinating talk was given by artist Michael Takeo Magruder about his exhibition on Imaginary Cities which will be staged at the British Library’s entrance hall from 5 April to 14 July 2019. Magruder is using the library’s 19th and early 20th century maps collection to create new and ever changing maps and simulations of virtual, fantastical cities. Try as I might, I fear I cannot do justice to Magruder’s unique and intriguing artwork with words alone and can therefore only urge you to go visit the exhibition this coming year.

These are only a few of the wonderful talks that were given during the Labs symposium. The British Labs symposium was a real eye opener for me. I did not realize just how quickly the field of 3D imaging had developed within the museum and library world. Nor did I realize how digital collections could be used, not simply to inspire, but create actual artworks.

Yet, one of the things that struck me most is how much the development of and advocacy for the use of digital collections within archives and libraries is spurred on by passionate individuals; be they artists who use digital collections to inspire their work, digital- and IT-specialists willing to sacrifice a lunch break or two for the sake of progress or individual scholars who create little zines to spread awareness about a topic they feel passionate about. Imagine what they can do if initiatives like the BL labs continue to bring such people together. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future for digital collections and scholarship holds. On to next year’s symposium.

 

Archives Unleashed – Vancouver Datathon

On the 1st-2nd of November 2018 I was lucky enough to attend the  Archives Unleashed Datathon Vancouver co-hosted by the Archives Unleashed Team and Simon Fraser University Library along with KEY (SFU Big Data Initiative). I was very thankful and appreciative of the generous travel grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that made this possible.

The SFU campus at the Habour Centre was an amazing venue for the Datathon and it was nice to be able to take in some views of the surrounding mountains.

About the Archives Unleashed Project

The Archives Unleashed Project is a three year project with a focus on making historical internet content easily accessible to scholars and researchers whose interests lay in exploring and researching both the recent past and contemporary history.

After a series of datathons held at a number of International institutions such as the British Library, University of Toronto, Library of Congress and the Internet Archive, the Archives Unleashed Team identified some key areas of development that would enable and help to deliver their aim of making petabytes of valuable web content accessible.

Key Areas of Development
  • Better analytics tools
  • Community infrastructure
  • Accessible web archival interfaces

By engaging and building a community, alongside developing web archive search and data analysis tools the project is successfully enabling a wide range of people including scholars, programmers, archivists and librarians to “access, share and investigate recent history since the early days of the World Wide Web.”

The project has a three-pronged approach
  1. Build a software toolkit (Archives Unleashed Toolkit)
  2. Deploy the toolkit in a cloud-based environment (Archives Unleashed Cloud)
  3. Build a cohesive user community that is sustainable and inclusive by bringing together the project team members with archivists, librarians and researchers (Datathons)
Archives Unleashed Toolkit

The Archives Unleashed Toolkit (AUT) is an open-source platform for analysing web archives with Apache Spark. I was really impressed by AUT due to its scalability, relative ease of use and the huge amount of analytical options it provides. It can work on a laptop (Mac OS, Linux or Windows), a powerful cluster or on a single-node server and if you wanted to, you could even use a Raspberry Pi to run AUT. The Toolkit allows for a number of search functions across the entirety of a web archive collection. You can filter collections by domain, URL pattern, date, languages and more. Create lists of URLs to return the top ten in a collection. Extract plain text files from HTML files in the ARC or WARC file and clean the data by removing ‘boilerplate’ content such as advertisements. Its also possible to use the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) to extract names of entities, locations, organisations and persons. I’m looking forward to seeing the possibilities of how this functionality is adapted to localised instances and controlled vocabularies – would it be possible to run a similar programme for automated tagging of web archive collections in the future? Maybe ingest a collection into ATK , run a NER and automatically tag up the data providing richer metadata for web archives and subsequent research.

Archives Unleashed Cloud

The Archives Unleashed Cloud (AUK) is a GUI based front end for working with AUT, it essentially provides an accessible interface for generating research derivatives from Web archive files (WARCS). With a few clicks users can ingest and sync Archive-it collections, analyse the collections, create network graphs and visualise connections and nodes. It is currently free to use and runs on AUK central servers.

My experience at the Vancouver Datathon

The datathons bring together a small group of 15-20 people of varied professional backgrounds and experience to work and experiment with the Archives Unleashed Toolkit and the Archives Unleashed Cloud. I really like that the team have chosen to minimise the numbers that attend because it created a close knit working group that was full of collaboration, knowledge and idea exchange. It was a relaxed, fun and friendly environment to work in.

Day One

After a quick coffee and light breakfast, the Datathon opened with introductory talks from project team members Ian Milligan (Principal Investigator), Nick Ruest (Co-Principal Investigator) and Samantha Fritz (Project Manager), relating to the project – its goals and outcomes, the toolkit, available datasets and event logistics.

Another quick coffee break and it was back to work – participants were asked to think about the datasets that interested them, techniques they might want to use and questions or themes they would like to explore and write these on sticky notes.

Once placed on the white board, teams naturally formed around datasets, themes and questions. The team I was in consisted of  Kathleen Reed and Ben O’Brien  and formed around a common interest in exploring the First Nations and Indigenous communities dataset.

Virtual Machines were kindly provided by Compute Canada and available for use throughout the Datathon to run AUT, datasets were preloaded onto these VMs and a number of derivative files had already been created. We spent some time brainstorming, sharing ideas and exploring datasets using a number of different tools. The day finished with some informative lightning talks about the work participants had been doing with web archives at their home institutions.

Day Two

On day two we continued to explore datasets by using the full text derivatives and running some NER and performing key word searches using the command line tool Grep. We also analysed the text using sentiment analysis with the Natural Language Toolkit. To help visualise the data, we took the new text files produced from the key word searches and uploaded them into Voyant tools. This helped by visualising links between words, creating a list of top terms and provides quantitative data such as how many times each word appears. It was here we found that the word ‘letter’ appeared quite frequently and we finalised the dataset we would be using – University of British Columbia – bc-hydro-site-c.

We hunted down the site and found it contained a number of letters from people about the BC Hydro Dam Project. The problem was that the letters were in a table and when extracted the data was not clean enough. Ben O’Brien came up with a clever extraction solution utilising the raw HTML files and some script magic. The data was then prepped for geocoding by Kathleen Reed to show the geographical spread of the letter writers, hot-spots and timeline, a useful way of looking at the issue from the perspective of engagement and the community.

Map of letter writers.

Time Lapse of locations of letter writers. 

At the end of day 2 each team had a chance to present their project to the other teams. You can view the presentation (Exploring Letters of protest for the BC Hydro Dam Site C) we prepared here, as well as the other team projects.

Why Web Archives Matter

How we preserve, collect, share and exchange cultural information has changed dramatically. The act of remembering at National Institutes and Libraries has altered greatly in terms of scope, speed and scale due to the web. The way in which we provide access to, use and engage with archival material has been disrupted. All current and future historians who want to study the periods after the 1990s will have to use web archives as a resource. Currently issues around accessibility and usability have lagged behind and many students and historians are not ready. Projects like Archives Unleashed will help to furnish and equip researchers, historians, students and the community with the necessary tools to combat these problems. I look forward to seeing the next steps the project takes.

Archives Unleashed are currently accepted submissions for the next Datathon in March 2019, I highly recommend it.

Building collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Bodleian is one of the 6 legal deposit libraries in the UK. One of my projects this year as a graduate trainee digital archivist on the Bodleian Libraries’ Developing the Next Generation Archivist programme is to help curate special collections in the UK Web Archive. Since May I’ve been working on the Gender Equality collection. Please note, this post also appears on the British Library UK Web Archive blog.

Why are we collecting?

2018 is the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act. UK-wide memorials and celebrations of this journey, and victory of women’s suffrage, are all evident online: from events, exhibitions, commemorations and campaigns. Popular topics being discussed at the moment include the hashtags #timesup and #metoo, gender pay disparity and the recent referendum on the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland. These discussions produce a lot of ephemeral material, and without web archiving this material is at risk of moving or even disappearing. As we can see gender equality is being discussed a lot currently in the media, these discussions have been developing over years.

Through the UK Web Archive SHINE interface we can see that matching text for the phrase ‘gender equality’ increased from a result of 0.002% (24 out of 843,204) of crawled resources in 1996, to 0.044% (23,289 out of 53,146,359) in 2013.

SHINE user interface

If we search UK web content relating to gender equality we will generate so many results; for example, organisations have published their gender pay discrepancy reports online and there is much to engage with from social media accounts of both individuals and organisations relating to campaigning for gender equality. It becomes apparent that when we browse this web content gender equality means something different for so many presences online: charities, societies, employers, authorities, heritage centres and individuals such as social entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers and more.

The Fawcett Society: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/blog/why-does-teaching-votes-for-women-matter-an-a-level-teachers-perspective

What we are collecting?

The Gender Equality special collection, that is now live on the UK Web Archive comprises material which provides a snapshot into attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. Web material is harvested under the areas of:

  • Bodily autonomy
  • Domestic abuse/Gender based violence
  • Gender equality in the workplace
  • Gender identity
  • Parenting
  • The gender pay gap
  • Women’s suffrage

100 years on from women’s suffrage the fight for gender equality continues. The collection is still undergoing curation and growing in archival records – and you can help too!

How to get involved?

If there are any UK websites that you think should be added to the Gender Equality collection then you can take up the UK Web Archive’s call for action and nominate.

 

 

The UK Web Archive: Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet Collection

The UK Web Archive hosts several Special Collections, curating material related to a particular theme or subject. One such collection is on Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet.

Since the advent of Web 2.0, people have been using the Internet as a platform to engage and connect, amongst other things, resulting in new forms of communication, and consequently new environments to adapt to – such as social media networks. This collection aims to illustrate how this has affected the UK, in terms of the impact on mental health. This collection will reflect the current attitudes displayed online within the UK towards mental health, and how the Internet and social media are being used in contemporary society.

We began curating material in June 2017, archiving various types of web content, including: research, news pieces, UK based social media initiatives and campaigns, charities and organisations’ websites, blogs and forums.

Material is being collected around several themes, including:

Body Image
Over the past few years, there has been a move towards using social media to discuss body image and mental health. This part of the collection curates material relating to how the Internet and social media affect mental health issues relating to body image. This includes research about developing theory in this area, news articles on various individuals experiences, as well as various material posted on social media accounts discussing this theme.

Cyber-bullying
This theme curates material, such as charities and organisations’ websites and social media accounts, which discuss, raise awareness and tackle this issue. Furthermore, material which examines the impact of social media and Internet use on bullying such as news articles, social media campaigns and blog posts, as well as online resources created to aid with this issue, such as guides and advice, are also collected.

Addiction

This theme collects material around gaming and other  Internet-based activities that may become addictive such as social media, pornography and gambling. It includes recent UK based research, studies and online polls, social media campaigns, online resources, blogs and news articles from individuals and organisations. Discourse, discussions, opinion and actions regarding different aspects of Internet addition are all captured and collected in this overarching catchment term of addiction, including social media addiction.

The Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet Special Collection, is available via the new UK Web Archive Beta Interface!

Co authored with Carl Cooper

The UK Web Archive Ebola Outbreak collection

By CDC Global (Ebola virus) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By CDC Global (Ebola virus) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Next month marks the four year anniversary of the WHO’s public announcement of “a rapidly evolving outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD)” that went on to become the deadliest outbreak of EVD in history.

With more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, it moved with such speed and virulence that–though concentrated in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone–it was feared at the time that the Ebola virus disease outbreak of 2014-2016 would soon spread to become a global pandemic.

No cure or vaccine has yet been discovered and cases continue to flare up in West Africa. The most recent was declared over on 2 July 2017. Yet today most people in the UK unless directly affected don’t give it a second thought.

Searching online now, you can find fact sheets detailing everything you might want to know about patient zero and the subsequent rapid spread of infection. You can find discussions detailing the international response (or failure to do so) and lessons learned. You might even find the reminiscences of aid workers and survivors. But these sites all examine the outbreak in retrospect and their pages and stories have been updated so often that posts from then can no longer be found.

Posts that reflected the fear and uncertainty that permeated the UK during the epidemic. The urgent status updates and travel warnings.  The misinformation that people were telling each other. The speculation that ran riot. The groundswell of giving. The mobilisation of aid.

Understandably when we talk about epidemics the focus is on the scale of physical suffering: numbers stricken and dead; money spent and supplies sent; the speed and extent of its spread.

Whilst UKWA regularly collects the websites of major news channels and governmental agencies, what we wanted to capture was the public dialogue on, and interpretation of, events as they unfolded. To see how local interests and communities saw the crisis through the lenses of their own experience.

To this end, the special collection Ebola Outbreak, West Africa 2014 features a broad selection of websites concerning the UK response to the Ebola virus crisis. Here you can find:

  • The Anglican community’s view on the role of faith during the crisis;
  • Alternative medicine touting the virtues of liposomal vitamin C as a cure for Ebola;
  • Local football clubs fundraising to send aid;
  • Parents in the UK withdrawing children from school because of fear of the virus’ spread;
  • Think tanks’ and academics’ views on the national and international response;
  • Universities issuing guidance and reports on dealing with international students; and more.

Active collection for Ebola began in November 2014 at the height of the outbreak whilst related websites dating back to the infection of patient zero in December 2013 have been retrospectively added to the collection. Collection continued through to January 2016, a few months before the outbreak began tailing off in April 2016.

The Ebola collection is available via the UK Web Archive’s new beta interface.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Started – DPC Student Conference 2018

On January 24th, four Archives Assistants from Archives and Modern Manuscripts visited Senate House, London for the DPC Student Conference. With the 2018 theme being ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’, it was an opportunity for digital archivists to pass on their wealth of knowledge in the field.

Getting started with digital preservation

The day started with a brief introduction to digital preservation by Sharon McMeekin from the Digital Preservation Coalition. This included an outline of the three basic models of digital preservation: OAIS, DCC lifecycle and the three-legged stool. (More information about these models can be found in the DPC handbook.) Aimed at beginners, this introduction was made accessible and easy to understand, whilst also giving us plenty to think about.

Next to take the stage was Steph Taylor, an Information Manager from CoSector, University of London. Steph is a huge advocate for the use of Twitter to find out the latest information and opinion in the world of digital preservation. As someone who has never had a Twitter account, it made me realise the importance of social media for staying up to date in such a fast-moving profession. Needless to say, I signed myself up to Twitter that evening to find out what I had been missing out on. (You can follow what was happening at the conference with the hashtag #dpc_wiwik.)

The final speaker before lunch was Matthew Addis, giving a technologist’s perspective. Matthew broke down the steps that you would need to take should you be faced with the potentially overwhelming job of starting from the beginning with a depository of digital material. He referenced a two-step approach – conceived by Tim Gollins – named ‘Parsimonious Preservation’, which involves firstly understanding what you have, and secondly keeping the bits safe. In the world of digital preservation, the worst thing you can do is do nothing, so by dealing with the simple and usually low-cost files first, you can protect the vast majority of the collection rather than going straight into the technical, time-consuming and costly minority of material. In the long run, the simple material that could have been dealt with initially may become technical and costly – due to software obsolescence, for instance.

That morning, the thought of tackling a simple digital preservation project would have seemed somewhat daunting. But Matthew illustrated the steps very clearly and as we broke for lunch I was left thinking that actually, with a little guidance, it probably wouldn’t be quite so bad.

Speakers on their experiences in the digital preservation field

During the afternoon, speakers gave presentations on their experiences in the digital preservation field. The speakers were Adrian Brown from the Parliamentary Archives, Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum and Edith Halvarsson from the Bodleian Libraries. It was fascinating to learn how diverse the day-to-day working lives of digital archivists can be, and how often, as Glenn Cumiskey remarked, you may be the first digital archivist there has ever been within a given organisation, providing a unique opportunity for you to pave the way for its digital future.

Adrian Brown on his digital preservation experience at the Parliamentary Archive

The final speaker of the day, Dave Thomson, explained why it is up to students and new professionals to be ‘disruptive change agents’ and further illustrated the point that digital preservation is a relatively new field. We now have a chance to be the change and make digital preservation something that is at the forefront of business’s minds, helping them avoid the loss of important information due to complacency.

The conference closed with the speakers taking questions from attendees. There was lively discussion over whether postgraduate university courses in archiving and records management are teaching the skills needed for careers in digital preservation. It was decided that although some universities do teach this subject better than others, digital archivists have to make a commitment to life-long learning – not just one postgraduate course. This is a field where the technology and methods are constantly changing, so we need to be continuously developing our skills in accordance with these changes. The discussion certainly left me with lots to think about when considering postgraduate courses this year.

If you are new to the archiving field and want to gain an insight into digital preservation, I would highly recommend the annual conference. I left London with plenty of information, ideas and resources to further my knowledge of the subject, starting my commitment to life-long learning in the area of digital preservation!

 

 

Significance & Authenticity: a Briefing

As an Ancient History graduate, significance and authenticity of source information characterised my university education. Transferring these principles to digital objects in an archival situation is a challenge I look forward to learning more about and embracing. Therefore I set off to Tate Britain on a cold Friday morning excited to explore the Digital Preservation Coalition’s briefing: Significance & Authenticity. Here are some of my reflections.

A dictionary definition is not enough

The morning started with a stimulating discussion led by Sharon McMeekin (DPC), on the definitions of these two concepts within the field of Digital Archives and the context of the varying institutions the delegates were from. Several key points were made, and further questions generated:

Authenticity

  • Authenticity clearly carries with it evidential value; if something is not what it purports to be then how can it (claim to) be authentic?
  • Chains of custody and tracking accidental/intended changes are extremely relevant to maintaining authenticity
  • Further measures such as increasing metadata fields – does this ensure authenticity?

For an archival record to retain authenticity there must be record of the original creation or experience of the digital object; otherwise we are looking at data without context. This also has a bearing on how significant an archival record is. A suggestion was also made that perhaps as a sector too much over-emphasis is placed on integrity checking procedures. Questions surfaced such as: is the digital preservation community too reliant on it? And in turn, is this practical process approach to ensuring authenticity too simplistic?

Significance

  • Records are not just static evidence, they are also for appreciation, education and to use
  • Should the users and re-users (the designated community) be considered more extensively when deciding the significance of a digital object?
  • Emulation as a digital preservation action prioritises the experience of using the data: is this the way to go regarding maintaining both the significant properties together with the authenticity?

There was no doubt left in my mind that the two principles are inextricably linked. However, not only are they increasingly subjective for both the record keeper and the end user, they must be distinguished from one another. For example, if a digital object can be interpreted as both a game and a book, yet the object was created and marketed as a book, does this make it any less significant or authentic? Or is the dispute part of what makes the object significant; the creation, characterisation and presentation of data in digital form is reflective of society today and what researchers may (or may not be) interested in in the future? We do not know and, as a fellow delegate reminded, cannot prejudice future research needs.

Building on the open mindedness that the  discussion encouraged, we were then fortunate enough to hear and learn from practitioners of differing backgrounds regarding how they ensure significance and authenticity of their collections. One particular example had me contemplating all weekend.

Significance & Authenticity of Digital Art by Patricia Falcao & Tom Ensom (Tate)

Patricia and Tom explained that they work with time-based media art and its creators. Working (mostly) with living artists ensures a short chain of provenance, however the nature of the digital art means that applying authenticity and significance is in no way straightforward. A principle which immediately affects the criteria of significance is the fact that it is very important that the Tate can exhibit the works, illustrating that differences in organisations will of course have a bearing on how significant a record is.

One example Tom analysed was the software based Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3 by Peruvian artist Jose Carlos Martinat Mendoza:

Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3 2007 Jose Carlos Martinat Mendoza born 1974 Presented by Eduardo Leme 2007, accessioned 2011 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T13251

The artwork comprises of a range of components: high speed printers, paper rolls,  a web search program and accompanying hardware, movement sensors and a model replica of the Peruvian government building ‘El Petagonito’ which is a symbol of brutalist architecture. The computer is programmed to search the web for references to ‘Brutalism’ and the different extracts of information it gathers are printed from mounted printers on the sculpture, left to fall to the floor around the replica.

Tom explained that retaining authenticity of the digital art was very much a case of the commitment to represent the artists work together with the arrangement and intention. One method of ensuring this is the transfer of a document from the creator called ‘Installation Parameters’. For this particular example, it contained details such as paper type and cabling needs. It also contained display specifications such as the hardware being  a very visible element of the art work.

Further documentation is created and stored to preserve the original authenticity and thus unique significance of the artwork and the integrity of its ‘performance’.  Provenance information such as diagrams, process metadata and the original source code is stored separately to the work itself. However, Tom acknowledged there is no doubt the work will need to change and in turn will be reinterpreted. Interestingly, the point was made that the text itself on the paper itself is time sensitive; live search results related to Brutalism will evolve and change.

Looking ahead, what will happen when the hardware fails? And even, what will happen when nobody uses printers anymore? Stockpiling is only a short term plan for maintaining authenticity and significance. Furthermore, even if hardware can be guaranteed then the program software itself generates different issues. Software emulation, code-change tracking systems and a binary analysis are all to be explored as a means to enable authenticity but there will always be a risk and need for alternative solutions.

Would these changes reduce the authenticity or significance? I believe authenticity is associated with intention and so perhaps if changes are communicated to the user with justifications this could be one way of maintaining this principle. Significance, on the other hand, is more tricky. Without the significant and notable properties of the work, is significance automatically lost?

This case study reinforced that there is much to explore and consider when approaching the principles of authenticity and significance of digital objects. To conclude, Tom and Patricia reinforced that within the artistic context, decisions around authenticity and significance are made through collaborative dialogues with the artist/creator which does indeed provide direction.

Workshop

After 3 more talks and a panel session the briefing ended with a workshop requiring us to evaluate the significance and authenticity of a digital object provided. As a trainee digital archivist I can be guilty of shying away from group discussions/exercises within the community of practice, so I was really pleased to jump in and contribute during the group workshop exercise.

Thank you to the DPC and all involved for a brilliant day.

Subcultures as Integrative Forces in East-Central Europe 1900 – present: a Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive record

A problem, and a solution in action:

The ephemeral nature of internet content (the average life of a web page is 100 days – illustrating that websites do not need to be purposefully deleted to vanish) is only one contributing factor to data loss. Web preservation is high priority;  action is required. This is a driver for not only Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive, but digital preservation initiatives on a global scale.

However, today I would like to share the solution in action, an example from BLWA’s University of Oxford Collection: Subcultures as Integrative Forces in East-Central Europe 1900 – present.

On the live web, attempts to access the site are met with automatic redirects to BLWA’s most recent archived capture (24 Jan. 2017). The yellow banner indicates it is part of our archive. Image from http://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20170124104518/http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/home.html

Subcultures is a University of Oxford project, backed by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, which through its explorative redefinition of ‘sub-cultures’ aims to challenge the current way of understanding simultaneous identification forms in the region of Eastern Europe through a multi-disciplinary methodology of social anthropology, discourse analysis, historical studies and linguistics. The project ran from 2012-2016.

The Subcultures website is an incredibly rich record of the project and it’s numerous works.  It held cross-continent collaborative initiatives including lectures, international workshops and seminars, as well as an outreach programme including academic publications. Furthermore, comparative micro-studies were conducted in parallel with main collaborative project: Linguistic Identities: L’viv/Lodz, c.1900; Myth and Memory: Jews and Germans, Interwar Romania; Historical Discourses: Communist Silesia and Discursive Constructions: L’viv and Wroclaw to present. The scope and content of the project, including key questions, materials, past and present events and network information is* all hosted on http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/home.html.

Was*. The site is no longer live on the internet.

However, as well as an automatic re-direction to our most recent archival copy, a search on Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive generates 6 captures in total:

Search results for Subcultures within BLWA. Image from https://archive-it.org/home/bodleian?q=Subcultures

The materials tab of the site fully functions in the archived capture: you are able to listen to the podcasts and download the papers on theory and case studies as PDF versions.

The use of Subcultures

To explore the importance of web-archiving in this context, let us think about the potential use(rs) of this record and the implications if the website were no longer available:

As the  project comprised a wider outreach programme alongside its research, content such as PDF publications and podcasts were available for download, consultation and further research. The website platform means that these innovative collaborations and the data informed by the primary methodology are available for access. This is of access to the public on a global scale for education and knowledge and interaction with important issues – without even elaborating on how academics, researchers, historians and the wider user community will benefit from the availability of the materials from this web archive. Outreach by its very nature demands an unspecified group of people to lend its services to help.

Listening to the podcast of the project event hosted in Krakow: ‘Hybrid Identity’ in 2014. Rationale, abstracts and biographies from the workshop can also be opened. Image from http://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20170124104618/http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/materials/workshop-krakow-hybrid-identity-september-2014.html

Furthermore, the site provides an irreplaceable record of institutional history for University of Oxford as a whole, as well as its research and collaborations. This is a dominant purpose of our University of Oxford collection. The role of preserving for posterity cannot be underplayed. Subcultures provides data that will be used, re-used and of grave importance for decades to come, and also documents decisions and projects of the University of Oxford. For example, the outline and rationale of the project is available in full through the Background Paper – Theory, available for consultation through the archived capture as it would be through the live web. Biographical details of contributors are also hosted on the captures, preserving records of people involved and their roles for further posterity and accountability.

Building on the importance of access to research: internet presence increases scholarly interaction. The scope of the project is of great relevance, and data for research is not only available from the capture of the site, but the use of internet archives as datasets are expected to become more prominent.

Participate!

Here at BLWA the archiving process begins with a nomination for archiving: if you have a site that you believe is of value for preserving as part of one of our collections then please do so here. The nomination form will go to the curators and web-archivists on the  BLWA team for selection checks and further processing. We would love to hear your nominations.